Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Season

Maseru Airport rises a glowing red orange , silhouetted against crystal blue skies. Customs, a small health center, and baggage claim are in one large room. We walk out and there is a huge cheer - welcome to Lesotho!

Morning begins around 5am here, the sky is afternoon bright by 7 in the morning - and by 8 you are ready for mid morning snack and coffee. Our first day we visit three schools, traveling to a near by village. There is one main road that is well paved, and full of traffic, leading out of Maseru. Once one turns off this oasis of pavement, the vehicle tosses itself over a wide hiking trail - for cars, cows, people, dogs, and so forth. It sways just gently enough that we disregard the danger, until a glance down from the window reveals the edge of embankments so steep we would surely sommersault if the 2 inch margin were to shrink. At each school we join the children for the morning assembly. In the yard, the children form rows based on their grade level. They are in the school uniforms, in varying stages of handmedowns. The children sing everything in swelling four part harmony. "Many of them are double orphans," the PC staff whisper in our ears. We are welcomed by the principal, we are stared at and giggled at and very shyly met by some of the students. We tour the classrooms, stare at broken wooden benches, crusted aged blackboards, walls dressed in a poster or two that have been painstakingly crafted by the head teacher. The principals thank us again, share how grateful they are for us coming to Lesotho, and soon we are back on the well paved road. Our first day has spit us out, back to the Peace Corps training center.

Weeks later, I am staying in a village as part of community training. Time means something altogether different in Lesotho. My host mother is teaching me to make bread. I am carefully eyeing each handful, translating frantically in my mind to cups and tablespoons, teaspoons, seasonings to taste. Later that afternoon we knead the bread, and she sets it inside a large round dutch oven pot. The water boiling in the bottom will 'steam' the bread. I don't bother to ask what temperature, as she has clarified that the boiling water means it is hot enough. I do make the mistake of asking how long to cook it, however. She looks at me surprised, bemused. Then she breaks out laughing, leans her head to one side, and says "You cook it until it is done!". I am a disappointing sous-chef, but we do laugh together.

Later that week, I come home from a training class. She is standing in the yard. She looks out and gestures to a vast expanse of land, plains that roll out before the mountains in the distance. Her face breaks into a huge smile again, and she says, "Look! Look at the dust!"

I am now wary of her laugh, even as it puts me at ease. I follow her gesture, and see dust swirling upwards in a terrifying echo of a mini tornado. "There will be a storm?" I confirm the obvious.

She laughs; yes, she nods. I can't bear another night in my tin roof shack, listening to the rocks roll across my ceiling when they are supposed to be in charge of securing the roof. I bury my dignity and spend the next several hours holding her hand in the living room as the wind rattles the windows and the rain pounds the ceiling. Her family sits with us, there are candles ready. Ntate, father, keeps watch by the window. They are alternately laughing at me and teaching me Sesotho. The storm dies down. I am ready to leave, when I turn and ask, "Were you scared too, M'me?" She looks at me and her smile vanishes.

"Yes! Yes! I was scared! I do not like these storms."